The Whisky Market
In modern times Whisky has seen the growth of an added process called ‘chill filtration’ or ‘cold chill filtered’.
This is the process of filtering whisky before bottling, so that it will not be cloudy if ‘ice’ is added during enjoying a tasty dram, sitting in a cold room or from natural oils and alcohol separating from too long a rest (although why would any tasty bottle rest too long between dram sessions!). This was thought to be off putting to consumers who are seeking the clarity of whisky in whichever manner you prefer to consume it. Some constantly give the explanation that this process was introduced because North Americans enjoy ice in their whisk(e)y. Although this is true in a lot of cases, why change a great thing?
The process is non-invasive to the liquid and one cannot truly taste a difference between a chill or not chill filtered whisky, however this is not entirely true. Now there is simply one way to prove this fact, and that is tasting the same expression in both versions, which is very hard to find.
I for one do think there is a difference! I had a tasting session with one identical expression in both versions. Although the flavour and aromas were similar, if not the same, there was something missing. I can add that it was the ‘waxiness’ of the non-chill filtered whisky. This allows for the whisky to remain longer on the palate and have an added liquid consistency that was lacking from the chill filtered version. Also what’s with ‘non-chilled filtered, how about ‘naturel’ or we did not touch a thing?
Now, is this a bad or good thing? That is a personal preference, much like adding ice to whisky is. There is no right or wrong.
Yet why mess with a great whisky! If it came out of the still and barrel that way just leave it alone to its grand beauty! I prefer the unchill filter and do not mind the louche effect of an ice cold whisky, as the waxiness which is caused by the natural oils in the whisky are spectacular.
Do your own test and let us know your thoughts, we think a whisky should remain naturel. From grain to still to casks to bottle!
Whisky is an enticing spirit that lures the mind to the Glens, mountains, peat bogs, and sea battered coasts of Scotland.
Is it no wonder that this great spirit was transported with her children to distant lands can transport any drinker to the beautiful landscape of Scotland. The early Scottish globetrotters brought with them the taste of home, creating all the great whiskies we adore today.
Bourbon owes its legacy to the first settlers of Kentucky that saw similar landscapes of Scotland and started the production of their own hooch. As was the same for those who travelled to the great white north and developed Canadian whiskey, taking into account the local varieties of available cereals, corn south of the border and rye above the 49th parallel. That same dream and allure made a Japanese man travel across the challenging oceans over 100 years ago to Scotland to learn the ins and outs of making whisky. They brought the history, passion, and skills of the Scots back to Japan, while mimicking so precisely the production, that it is today a top shelf whiskey paying homage to Scotch.
The same can be seen in many countries from mainland Europe to South Africa, off to India, Taiwan, and even further south to Oceania.
Whisky in the Scottish style is produced from East to West, North Pole to the South Pole, much like at the height of British Empire, the sun never settled on the distillation of whisk(e)y. Whether it was brought by monks originally from Ireland to Scotland, or by an early business man who traveled from North Africa to the Highlands of Scotland.
Scotch whisky is a unique alcohol that has won over the palates of many across mother Earth. Owning a bottle of your favorite dram is always a special treat, and those who delve more into their passion settle knowing they have their own cask(s) of whisky aging in a dunnage warehouse, dreaming of their whisky as it rest and matures into a delicious liquid that is part of the rich history of Scotland and Whisky. Once they can drink it their minds wonder off to the picturesque lands of Scotland where their whisky was distilled and matured!
Investing in whisky casks in today’s market is quickly gaining speed and interest.
The golden and ruby hue of single malts is turning into a rich green as investor clamor evermore to own Scottish liquid gold. The Whisky Market Limited is at the forefront in selecting choice matured casks and laying down ‘new make’ in ex-fill; bourbon, red wine, and sherry.
The Whisky Market Limited is seeing a steady 7-10% annual return on casks, and our associate company over the past 3 years has seen a staggering 11-123% increase in value. The rate of return is based on the distillery, type of cask, age, and rarity. Investing in casks has great advantages for return on investment and the rare added value of saying you are the proud owner of a casks of whisky! The rise of independent bottlers and investors seeking out casks means the investment will always have a buyer. Unless of course you choose to bottle it and maybe share with the lucky ones!
It was only a few years ago that the first cask of whisky sold at auction. Setting a world record; a Macallan 25 year old at $793.000 HK. This has prompted a growing interest in other auction houses to venture into the selling casks. Most recently in June 2015, Christie’s of London included two casks in the Fine Wine & Spirits Auction. Five specialty whisky auction houses cater to this sector of selling rare expressions of whisky, predominantly bottles but casks are beginning to emerge.
The industry is growing with an influx of buyers and sellers all vying to capitalise on their growing interest in tasty casks. What whisky enthusiast or prudent investor would not want to declare they own a cask(s) of Scotland’s signature export!
Don’t whine about wine Casks!
Wine casks in the whisky industry are becoming ever more present in single malts. This is the discussion of red, white, and sweet wine casks such as Sauternes, Bordeaux, Barolo, Pinot Noir, and not the equally delicious fortified wines like; Sherry, Porto, Madeira.
It may come as a surprise that usage of wine casks in the Scotch industry is not a new edition. Historically wine casks have been used in the whisky industry for a long, long time even when it was dominated by sherry. Stemming back to when casks of wine would be shipped to Scotland or England to be bottled locally and the used casks would be gobbled up by the distilleries for maturation. It is true that at this time the casks were not chosen specifically but were taken based on availability.
The new growing trend or experimentation, is to select specific quality wine casks to bring a variant flavour profile to the Whisky. This has been producing great results. An added bonus is the fact that these casks are readily available from wineries and at a much lower cost. They are being used for finishing, full maturation, and as part maturation. Which process they are used for depends on the experienced palate of the Malt Master.
Using these types of casks gives a new dimension to the spirit from the particular oak used. French oak is a common occurrence with wine casks, which does vary in character from an American oak giving the spirit a spicy, less sweet, and silky tannin structure. Given the multitude of wine grape assemblages be it dry, sweet or robust the variance of expressions is massive.
This was recently experienced at a lowland distillery which had a 9 year old fully matured in a red Bordeaux casks. The expression was a lovely, full character of French oak and a fine red wine. The Whisky Market Ltd has some tasty Tullibardine resting in some fine red Grands Crus … sadly not ready yet, but maturing fabulously … We cannot wait!
Characters: Dry, fruity, smoother tannins, ruby colour, robust, honey
There are various distilleries that are releasing wine cask finished whisky, which is gradually gaining more admiration by single malts drinkers. Be it a sweeter finish of a sauternes or a more robust profile from a heavy red wine …. How could you not like it or be curious?
Refill Bourbon casks have been flowing into Scotland for over a hundred years.
The kicker happened in 1935 with the passing of the ‘Federal Alcohol Administration Act’ which required all Bourbon hence forth to be matured in ‘virgin’ American white oak barrels. Wilbur Mills (Democrat Representative from Arkansas) introduced the bill with the outset to classify American whisky, but the underlying fact was that his native state of Arkansas has well profited from barrel making, being one of and still a major supplier of oak lumber for barrel making. After the act was passed and the bourbon ready there was an abundance of American barrels and Scotland was hungry for refill casks.
Refill bourbon casks account for the majority of casks used in today’s distilleries, approximately 95%. American oak is high in vanillin’s, which attributes to the flavour character it imparts during maturation. The high content of tyloses (gives the wood a closed cellular structure, making it water and rot resistant) adds to its superior water tight properties, ideal for barrel making. Bourbon barrels are charred (heavy toasting of the cask) at 4 levels; Char #1 – 2mm to Char #4 – 4mm of toasting in the wood, Char #3 is the standard.
The change in using bourbon casks did however, change the taste of whisky versus using sherry, porto, or madeira casks for maturation which have been used for centuries. American white oak gives notes of vanilla, honey, coconut, almonds, créme brulee, and ginger. European oak gives off spices and dried fruit notes; arising from the sherry, porto, and madeira wine.
The great economics of bourbon barrels is they are far cheaper than European casks, because of the high abundance of American white oak, they are priced far lower, even with the increase price, which was between 40-50% for American oak in the past 5 years. Abundant, cheaper …why would Scottish distilleries, much like the Irish and Canadian distilleries, not want to utilise this great source?
Bourbon barrels have in many ways saved and grown the Scottish whisky market internationally. Hate or love bourbon, the barrels do aid in making delicious Single Malts!
Facts of Bourbon barrels:
- Oak:American White oak (quercus alba); sourced in 18 eastern US states
- Key Natural Chemicals:Vanillin, Tyloses
- Flavor Notes:vanilla, honey, créme brulee, coconut, almonds, nutmeg, ginger, smoky (from charring)
- Maturation Colour:Wheat, Straw
- Name:American casks are called ‘barrels’ set at a standard 53 US gallons/ 200 litres volume
Casks are an integral step in the making of whisky and spirits alike.
Whether a spirit is matured for 6 months or 18 years, casks take hold of a pertinent stage in the life of a spirit.
My name is Jonathan Lax, I am originally from Montreal, QC (Canada). Over the past 10 years I have worked in the food & beverage industry concurrently in Montreal and New York City. My passion for spirits grew exponentially during these past years, with an ever growing affection for spirits but an admiration for whisk(e)y. This past year I started the first ever worldwide Spirits MBA at the INSEEC wine & spirits institute based in Bordeaux, France and London, UK. For my degree thesis I have chosen to delve into the mysteries, and problems arising from casks/barrels.
Putting spirits in casks for maturation is not a new invention, but that one that stems back hundreds of years when the tall mast ships ruled the high seas, delivering goods from all corners of the world. Casks were a convenient mode of transporting goods. It was discovered something magical happened when a rum from the Caribbean arrived in the UK or when a whisky was shipped from Scotland to a British Empire station around the world. When they arrived they had taken on a new flavour profile that was desirable, and flavourful to the pallet. Once a spirit had been aged in a cask, the attributes the wood influenced on the spirit made it more pleasing to drink. It was at this point that the love affair between spirits and casks started.
The Scotch whisky industry has relied on casks for hundreds of years, starting first with whatever casks were available in the 19th century to post WW2 relying predominantly on American Bourbon casks to age there delicious gift to the world. Today’s standard are refill bourbon casks for majority of maturation, along with refill sherry casks and then finishing traditionally in refill sherry or port casks. (Refill means casks previously used by another spirit) This is because a virgin casks gives a lot of wood tannins to the spirit, which can be desirable for an American whiskey but not for a Scottish whisky. A new trend, yet also a traditional trend, is to finish whiskys in refill wine casks, i.e. sauternes, grand crus Bordeaux, which express another sweet, fruity profile. Needless to say the character the casks give is vastly mistaken, and provides a full pantone range of characters.
My participation in the blog will be to give a great historical background of cask usage and the modern touch of using various refill casks. I will deliver technical information on the industry as to the difference between an American oak vs. European oak cask, and on the varied levels of ‘toasting’ (the burning of the oak barrels before a spirit is put in to mature to caramelise the wood sugars). There is a scarcity problem in America with casks due to the mass increase in production, with barrel aged beers being among some of the issues that are affecting the flow of available casks.
I hope to deliver pertinent information for basic to experienced spirits enthusiast and to industry professionals. I look forward to replying to any questions or enquiries and creating a working platform for all to participate.
Cheers, Jon Lax
Auction prices for fine whisky are soaring....
...ACCORDING To the investment grade scotch index the top 100 single malts gave an average return of 440% from the start of 2008 until July 2014.
At auction sales of rare bottles are expected to reach 6.75 million BP up from 5 million last year (Bloomberg). On the other hand, investors in fine wine have seen the market, over the last 4 years drop by 45%. The best performer, chateau lafite has decreased in certain vintages 70-80%. Food for thought.
There are 100 distilleries in Scotland all producing single malts, and many are unable to keep up with the huge increase in demand, due to whiskies lengthy ageing process.
Sourcing casks is becoming increasing difficult and they are becoming rarer and rarer